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LBJ/Vietnam Addendum

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Particularly given that it’s already been a subject a broader discussion this year, I should acknowledge that I was wrong to say that “Iraq was just as much a fiasco” as Vietnam. Vietnam was indeed even worse in terms of its bad effect on the people of Vietnam, Cambodia, and the United States than the Iraq war was on the people of Iraq and the U.S., no question. My other point, that LBJ bears less personal responsibility for the Vietnam disaster than Bush does for Iraq, I stand behind. As Erik put it, “Vietnam might be worse than Iraq, but anyone with a realistic shot of becoming president in 1964 was going to do the same thing–from either political party. And we saw that when Nixon took over. It was an elite consensus decision. Iraq was a purely partisan war forced on the American people (not to mention the Iraqi people) by a wing of the Republican Party.” I would add to that the support for Vietnam within the governing coalition was much deeper — most major organized labor leaders, for example, strongly Vietnam, but the Chamber of Commerce wasn’t going to undermine Bush’s domestic agenda if he didn’t go to war in Iraq. Public support for Vietnam was almost certainly stronger as well. Anybody who could have become president in 2000 would have invaded Afghanistan (unless that president could have prevented 9/11), but the Iraq catastrophe was driven by dynamics specific to the Bush administration.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that LBJ is exculpated from any responsibility from Vietnam. First of all, if he gets credit for policies that were in large measure a product of his political coalition he has to get blame for the bad ones (especially when it comes to foreign policy, where the president’s authority is greatest.) And while I think it’s exceedingly implausible that any American president would have withdrawn from Vietnam in 1964 whether they would have escalated it to the same extent is much less clear (and the counterfactual doesn’t look good for LBJ since it’s hard to imagine anyone being much worse.) It doesn’t swallow the credit he should get for passing the best domestic agenda of any 20th century president (yes, including FDR), but it’s major part of his legacy.

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  • Murc

    I recall the need to kick the shit out of Iraq being a pretty elite consensus decision, supported by overwhelming bipartisan majorities and enormous cross-cutting swathes of the chattering classes and our various public institutions. Am I misremembering?

    Actually, let me be clearer; while the Republican Party certainly deserves the lions share of the blame for lying us into a spectacularly awful war, describing it as something that was “forced” on the country by “a wing” of the Republican party exculpates far, far too many people who either should have known better or were vile, sniveling cowards.

    • You are misremebering in a sense. By the time we invaded Iraq, many of the elites had gotten on board. But it was a project undertaken by the Bush Administration that took time and convincing and that support was ultimately shallow. Ultimately, most American politicians will support an initial rush to war and always have–even skeptical Whigs when Polk started the Mexican War.

      Sending troops to Vietnam was not something anyone would even question in 1964. It was what you did as a responsible leader. Everyone was on board without thinking twice. OK, everyone but Wayne Morse.

      The situations are remarkably different.

      • Murc

        The situations are remarkably different.

        They absolutely are, and your points are well-taken, but I still think that, even in the context of a Vietnam comparison, the sentence “Iraq was a purely partisan war forced on the American people (not to mention the Iraqi people) by a wing of the Republican Party.” lets far, far, far too many people off the hook.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          This. Both the distinction and the extension of the Iraq blame to many Democrats. A majority of Senate Democrats supported the Iraq War Resolution in 2002. The fact that even in 2008, when the war had gotten very unpopular with the public, Hillary Clinton continued to defend her vote in favor of the IWR suggests the extent to which the project quickly became a bipartisan one, even if the Bush Administration unquestionably led the way, supported the war more unequivocally, and of course, deserves more of the blame because of the executive’s powers in foreign policy. The two parties were not alike on the Iraq War. Many Democrats opposed it, especially among the grassroots of the party. But a shocking number of Democrats supported it, including all the serious, national Democrats who were contemplating presidential runs in 2004 (which is one of the reasons that an unlikely candidate like Howard Dean, who made his opposition to the war a centerpiece of his campaign, made so much noise that year).

    • Rob in CT

      I agree with this.

      The GOP drove it, certainly. But there were plenty of hawkish Dems.

      • A majority of Dems in the House voted against the IWR, and it was barely a majority who voted for it in the Senate. And most of those votes were reluctant and/or perceived as politically necessary.

        But within the Democratic electorate there was far less support for Iraq than there was among Dems for Vietnam in 1964 or 1965. There were a lot of moronic “Democratic hawk” policy hucksters who backed Iraq, but most were opposed. The “ideas” people most in favor of it were more the belles lettres intellectuals and the policy hucksters. But in 1964 there were damn few academics or foreign policy mandarins or liberal writers/ideologists against escalating in Vietnam.

    • keta

      …vile, sniveling cowards.

      Calling Little Tommy Friedman. Tommy, paging Little Tommy…

    • drkrick

      The relevant comparison, I think, is that LBJ realistically feared being attacked as the President who lost Vietnam in the same way Harry Truman was attacked for losing China. As someone who planned to run again in ’68, it was a reasonable fear.

      There was no chance anyone would have attacked GWB for losing Iraq if his administration had not chosen to go to war there. The fact that a lot of cowardly Dems who almost certainly knew better went along is very different from a reasonable fear that any of them could have launched a politically significant attack on him for not going there.

    • Hannibal Lecture

      And saying anything else got you shouted down as an America-hater.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I think Eirk has it right — there’s no question that there was a lot of bipartisan support for the war after it was a fait accompli, but how many Democrats were clamoring to attack Iraq in late 2001, when the decision was being made?

      Also, even though the war was inevitable a majority of House Democrats and about 40% of Senate Democrats opposed the Iraq War Resolution. That doesn’t sound like a Vietnam-style consensus to me.

  • mc

    so LBJ gets a pass for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, knowingly selling a BS story to congress & the public, (or at best willfully remaining ignorant of situation on the ground) because “anyone with a realistic shot of becoming president in 1964 was going to do the same thing”?

    Your criteria for judging a president is essentially who hands out the best bread and circuses, since he otherwise is not in charge of events.

    • Wow, so reading comprehension isn’t one of your skills? Because that is pretty much the exact opposite of everything in the post.

    • joe from Lowell

      so LBJ gets a pass

      This doesn’t mean, of course, that LBJ is exculpated from any responsibility from Vietnam.

      • Alan in SF

        One of the more amazing things, looking back on it through the prism of Iraq and Afghanistan, is: 550,000 American troops on the ground. While the political consensus at the time demanded “victory” in Vietnam, I don’t think it necessarily demanded half a million troops rather than 50,000.

  • Davis X. Machina

    I recall the need to kick the shit out of Iraq being a pretty elite consensus decision,

    The need to kick the shit out of Iraq was an elite consensus decision, and there are the Clinton-era resolutions, and occasional air strikes, and such to prove it.

    But that’s as far as it goes — that the need was there. Translating that need into action, though, for that you need a wing of the Republican party, and one in control of the executive to boot.

    Unless you’re going to seriously make the case that Al Gore, or whoever, does Operation Iraqi Freedom.

    • mc

      Al Gore would be assassinated by “Iraqi agents” in early 2003. President Lieberman would launch Operation Iraqi Freedom shortly thereafter.

      • mjtp

        President Lieberman

        I just threw up in my mouth a little.

        • BigHank53

          Closely followed by Operation Iranian Freedom and Operation Syrian Freedom and Operation Anybody-Else-Likud-Is-Looking-At-Funny Freedom. After oil hits $600 a barrel the next winter it’ll be the domestic programs Operation Edible Housepets and hiring half the workforce to dig mass graves freedom trenches for the other half.

          • “Shovels! Get your shovels here! Two for one Tuesday!”

    • junker

      Unless you’re going to seriously make the case that Al Gore, or whoever, does Operation Iraqi Freedom.

      Ronan, paging Ronan.

    • Katya

      Yeah, I think it’s pretty clear that President Gore would have invaded Afghanistan, but there’s no way that he would have invaded Iraq (unless some other major event occurs that completely changes the calculus and motivation).

      • howard

        i actually think it’s not completely implausible that there wouldn’t have been a 9/11 had there been a president gore.

        • DrS

          By not ignoring intelligence reports about UBL?

          • 2000 Pres/VP debates, terrorism was mentioned only twice. Once by Gore, once by Lieberman.

            • CL Minou

              Clinton Administration was pretty focused on UBL–they had basically empowered Richard Clarke (who for all his other flaws was generally decent on this beat) to make UBL the centerpiece of counter-terrorism efforts. A lot of Clinton staffers tried to drum that into the Bush transition team with predictable results.

              What I do know is that Clarke doesn’t wait a year to get a meeting with the President in a Gore administration.

            • joe from Lowell

              Are debates really the best way to suss out a politician’s priorities?

              • I think you miss my point. Gore and Lieberman showed awareness and concern about terrorism. Bush and Cheney did not.

                • Alan in SF

                  Since this is LGM, I know this is risky to even mention, but…President Nader would have prevented 9/11, by demanding locking cabin doors, as he had been doing for many years. Both Clinton and Bush opposed this. I’m no aeronautics engineer (maybe some of the LGm guys can help out here) but the per plane cost would have been, what, an extra five-dollar-per-passenger fee on a single flight?

        • The Pale Scot

          IIRC,

          We’ve known for years now that George W. Bush received a presidential daily briefing on Aug. 6, 2001, in which he was warned: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” We’ve known for almost as long that Bush went fishing afterward.

          What we didn’t know is what happened in between the briefing and the fishing, and now Suskind is here to tell us. Bush listened to the briefing, Suskind says, then told the CIA briefer: http://www.salon.com/2006/06/20/911pdb/

          • The Pale Scot

            Hmm, SNAFU,

            Suskind says, then told the CIA briefer: “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.”

            Yea, since Bin Laden was on the Clinton Admin. threat board, which was disregarded by the Bushies according to reports, I don’t think Gore would have ignored it.

      • joe from Lowell

        Yeah, I think it’s pretty clear that President Gore would have invaded Afghanistan

        Let’s remember the timeline: the day Kabul fell, there were fewer than 1000 American personnel in the entire country. The number of western forces at Tora Bora was in the dozens. That battle happened in December 2001.

        The invasion of Afghanistan – the effort to take the country and conduct a counter-insurgency war with tens of thousands of troops – began the next year, in 2002.

        A competently-conducted hot-pursuit of al Qaeda and a policy of backing the Northern Alliance and toppling the Taliban would have been completed a few months after 9/11, and would not have involved an actual invasion of the country.

  • Tom Servo

    LBJ also tried to clean up his mess towards the end (Nixon and Kissinger committed treason and should have hanged for it). Bush didn’t even try to unfuck Iraq.

  • Tom Servo

    unless that president could have prevented 9/11

    A counterfactual is a counterfactual, I get it. But is it really a stretch to believe that Gore would have actually listened to Richard Clarke? He certainly wouldn’t have come in with an Iraq fixation.

    • postmodulator

      There’s decent evidence that under the Clinton administration, something fairly big was foiled that was supposed to happen on 12/31/1999. That said, I also remember that that was a point where things like border security started getting heightened past where I thought was reasonable.

      There was a Canadian DJ named Plastikman who was supposed to spin somewhere in the States on New Year’s Eve that year, and customs looked at his DJ stuff and said “I don’t understand what this stuff is, so you’re not bringing it into the country.” (I assume we’re not talking about two decks and a couple of milk crates with vinyl in them.

    • Scott Lemieux

      But is it really a stretch to believe that Gore would have actually listened to Richard Clarke?

      No — that’s why I mentioned it. I don’t think you can assume 9/11 would happen with a competent president. (Not saying Gore would have stopped it either, just that is was possible.)

  • Nobody can know what JFK would have done in Vietnam if he had lived. He probably would have continued US intervention, but it is by no means certain that he would have made as big a hash out of it as LBJ and RMN did. However, this is really the realm of juju artists and not historians. We don’t know what would have happened only what did happen. We do know that Vietnam got a lot worse under LBJ in large part due to his decisions. I don’t think the CRA should cancel out his disasters in Vietnam and other areas of the world such as backing the coup against Nkrumah and make him a saint. There is a good reason why LBJ’s conduct in Vietnam left him with a very bad image in retrospect among many people. This modern day revisionism comes from many places, but none of them seem to take seriously the fact that LBJ did an incredible amount of permanent damage to places outside the US. So unless your moral position is that the Civil Rights of Black Americans are infinitely more important than those of Ghanaians, Congolese, Vietnamese Indonesians and other peoples it is hard to see how the CRA in any way justifies LBJ’s foreign policy.

    • Hogan

      and make him a saint

      I love the smell of burning straw on a Friday.

    • junker

      “Vietnam justified the CRA,” said no one ever.

      • I can’t figure out if he’s a Manichean or a sophist.

        • sharculese

          I thought we agreed on solipsist?

          • I missed that, but I won’t forget it. Very apt.

    • jb

      Oh boy.

      I know I shouldn’t, but this is so ludicrous that I can’t help but reply.

      Nobody is suggesting that LBJ’s foreign policy was justifiable, still less that he was a saint! We are merely noting that his domestic policies were quite good, indeed among the best that American Presidents have been able to pass. Moreover, your dislike of Johnson seems to be due to a) Vietnam, and b) backing coups in various areas of the world. Those are both very bad things that leave a black mark on Johnson’s record, and nobody in this thread is suggesting otherwise! However, I can think of very few politicians from that era who would not have intervened in Vietnam, and no one who would not have backed at least one right-wing dictatorship. Remember, this was the Cold War, when knee-jerk anti-Communism was practically the official religion, and the United States regarded any sufficiently left-wing government-especially in the Third World- as Communist and a dire threat to the free world. Johnson was not, by any means, the only President to support coups or dictatorships in the Third World. Indeed, every President from Truman to
      Bush I
      did so! The only President during the Cold War to be even somewhat consistent on the issue of human rights was Jimmy Carter, and he was utterly vilified for that! So yes, Johnson was bad on international human rights, and did numerous damage to places outside the US. But that was true of almost every President during this period! Moreover, quite a few of those same Presidents, (Nixon, Reagan), had horrible domestic policies in addition to their abysmal foreign policies. Why you focus your vitriol on Johnson specifically is beyond me.

      Moreover, to accuse us of not caring about the civil rights of Ghanaians, Congolese, or Vietnamese because we say good things about Johnson’s domestic policy is absurd. I could just as easily turn it around and accuse you of not caring about the civil rights of black Americans because you attack Johnson’s foreign policy. That makes as much sense as what you’re doing here.

      • jb

        And frankly, the accusation of us not caring about the civil rights of Ghanaians is especially absurd given your own position. Before the coup, the civil rights of numerous Ghanaians, had already been violated by Nkrumah’s government! I do not approve of the coup, nor of Johnson’s support of it, and I will admit that the rule of the succeeding military junta was very bad in terms of human rights abuses. The US government behaved appallingly here. But to act as if Nkrumah was an innocent victim is absurd. You often attack the American left because of their supposedly widespread support for Communist and left-wing dictatorships. Well by 1965, Nkrumah was the head of an openly authoritarian one-party state!

        • Nkrumah was a better president than LBJ even with the Preventive Detention Act. Which is a black mark, but nothing compared to the 1966 coup or Vietnam War. The PDA was a response to very real acts of terrorism inside Ghana by Nkrumah’s opponents. So yes incarcerating 1,1000 or so people without trial definitely not the best display of human rights. By African or any other standards, this is a rather small number, however. Compare it for instance to the numbers imprisoned without trial by Mobutu who came to power with LBJ’s help.

          Here is a Nkrumahist defense of the PDA.

          http://www.conventionpeoplesparty.org/?q=node/80

          On the other hand Ghana still benefits from the accomplishments of Nkrumah and it still suffers greatly from the 1966 coup. I am unsure, how Nkrumah provoked LBJ into backing the coup against him unless your position is that non-alignment as defined by the Belgrade Conference of 1961 is the same as joining the Warsaw Pact. Nkrumah honored his part in the building of the dam and the provision of electricity to Kaiser-Reynolds which was completed a month before he was overthrown. He did not nationalize the Kaiser Aluminum smelter in Tema. He even conceded on the issues of using Guinean rather than Ghanaian bauxite and the rate of pay demanded by Kaiser. So it isn’t like Guatemala where there is the fig leaf of nationalization of United Fruit Company for the coup. Really the documents that have been declassified and published from the LBJ Library show that the Johnson administration disliked Nkrumah because Ghanaian newspapers criticized the US, because his industrial policy might eventually come to resemble that of Yugoslavia, and because he was seeking to have non-aligned foreign policy balanced between the US and USSR.

          Here is the source on the dam.

          http://jpohl.blogspot.com/2014/01/black-power-kwame-nkrumah-africa-must_1431.html

  • David Hunt

    and the counterfactual doesn’t look good for LBJ since it’s hard to imagine anyone being much worse

    Nope. Barry Goldwater easily clears that hurdle. Although the “Daisy” add is infamous, it wasn’t hyperbolic. I saw an long interview Goldwater gave in late 80s/early 90s with Bob Costas of all people. He had a really late night interview after Letterman on NBC at the time. Costas asked him what he’d have done in Nam if he’d been president. I can’t remember the actual wording, but he said he’d have covered the North in leaflets telling them to surrender within one month or he’d turn them into a radioactive hellscape, and that if they didn’t comply he’d do exactly that. I did not doubt him in the least.

    • howard

      “bomb em back to the stone age” clears that hurdle, but on the other hand, “bomb emback to the stone age” didn’t have a realistic chance of becoming vice president….

      • howard

        actually, to be fair, that was a ’68 articulation, not a ’64.

    • Tom Servo

      Goldwater was a weird dude. I find it funny that the Republican Party became so weird and twisted that it outgrew him. I think towards the end of his life, he came out in favor of gay rights and as an atheist or something. Not saying he was a good guy, it’s just weird how shit changes. I guess you could say his libertarian streak anticipated the rise of jackasses like Rand Paul by a couple decades-although even he’s regressive compared to Goldwater, depending on the point of comparison.

      • Tom Servo

        Apparently he was also pro-choice. You know I grew up listening to my father worship him, it’s funny looking back.

      • LeeEsq

        Goldwater was never really into social conservatism if you define it as using policy to enforce traditional notions of morality. I think he has a gay grandson so that probably helped a bit to. What drove Goldwater was a fierce anti-Communism even by Cold War standards and what is a seemingly sincere belief in capitalism.

        • And a vicious hatred of labor unions. In fact, that may have been his most vehemently held belief, and arguably was the basis for almost all of his politics.

      • DrDick

        Sorry, but Goldwater was a major part of the genesis of the modern GOP. PNAC was founded by workers on his campaign (including Cheney and Rumsfield). I do not care if he mellowed in his old age, he helped create this monster.

    • DrDick

      Absolutely and what I was going to say as well. Goldwater was a leader of the “bomb them back to the stone age” faction.

  • howard

    the tragedy of lbj and vietnam is his succumbing to the sunk cost fallacy.

    by the time clark clifford convinced him there was no there there, it was too late.

  • Dennis Orphen

    I don’t think you can hold Bush personally responsible for Iraq. He was hired to do a job and he did it. If he didn’t do the job he would have been fired and someone else would have been hired to do the job. And, part of the job description included “taking the blame for those who hired him”. And, no, I don’t believe the American people were the ones who hired him, especially for that particular task.

    • Tom Servo

      If you’re going to argue that the Commander in Chief shouldn’t shoulder a shitload of the blame, you’re going to need a lot more than vague allusions to a cabal of elite puppet masters.

      • gedde

        And how could playing the part of a marionette for warmongering interests possibly form a cloak of inculpability?

        • Hogan

          You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.

        • Hannibal Lecture

          I, the Commander in Chief, was just following orders…

    • How can you say that? It was obvious that the US would be going to Iraq the afternoon the Supreme Court awarded him the election, and by September 12 everyone should have known it was coming. Hell, Afghanistan was a distraction that he couldn’t wait to get over with so that he could get down to the real work of ousting Saddam Hussein.

    • Dennis Orphen

      No one becomes the PTOS without a backers. Bush certainly didn’t pull himself up by his bootstraps from abject poverty. And he didn’t use his power ring or the bully pulpit to start the war. Bush’s backers (Halliburton, Blackwater, Carlye Group, Enron…) wanted someone who, in the words of the late, great Hunter S. Thompson, would “follow orders and not ask questions.”

  • mjtp

    the credit he should get for passing the best domestic agenda of any 20th century president (yes, including FDR)…

    Perhaps I’m insufficiently versed in Scott’s oeuvre, but this strikes me as requiring quite a lot of fleshing out before I buy it.

    For one thing, certainly the same “wins over replacement” sorts of criteria must be applied to FDR as to LBJ. I see many indictments of FDR’s racial policies and other matters that don’t seem to account for the fact that he depended on a coalition of corrupt Northern political machines and Neo-Confederates for his power.

    It’s likely a futile comparison to attempt, given the political and economic crises faced by FDR as against the enourmously prosperous, growing nation with unchallenged international economic power that LBJ led 30 years later, and the fact that LBJ’s whole career, never mind the course of his presidency, is unimaginable without the New Deal.

  • lynnia

    Off topic, but Scott can you or Loomis give this the fisking it so badly needs? Apparently wasteful faculty who spend too much time on research and are rolling in luxury are the reason college is so expensive. Planet Money somehow getting even more reactionary by the day …. (I am almost reluctant to give the link because clickbait.)

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2014/02/14/277015271/duke-60-000-a-year-for-college-is-actually-a-discount

    • Planet Money was probably always bad, but in the last few years it’s awful. Not John Stoessel awful, but if you adjust for the networks, the NPR equivalent.

      • Hannibal Lecture

        IIRC, it’s basically run out of George Mason’s econ department, which may be slightly less Austrian than a Linzertorte.

        • Rigby Reardon

          Didn’t McArdle have something to do with that show, or has she just been a guest on it a few too many times?

        • Monte Davis

          This comparison made my day

    • Rigby Reardon

      Might be Paul’s beat too, sort of.

  • cpinva

    “Anybody who could have become president in 2000 would have invaded Afghanistan (unless that president could have prevented 9/11), but the Iraq catastrophe was driven by dynamics specific to the Bush administration.”

    really? and why is that, he asks? because a pres. gore would also have ignored the niceties of extradition treaties, like actual pres. bush did? because a pres. gore would have invaded an entire country, to purportedly capture non-citizens of that country, who committed civilian criminal acts against the US, like actual pres. bush did? of course, a pres. gore would probably have paid attention to the security briefing, and made some effort to keep 9/11 from happening to begin with, something the actual pres. bush didn’t bother his pretty little head with.

    • Davis X. Machina

      I don’t think the possibility of international action, designed to prevent “another Rwanda”, spearheaded by a US government heavily invested in R2P, is out of the question, given the pre-9/11 state of Afghanistan.

    • really? and why is that, he asks? because a pres. gore would also have ignored the niceties of extradition treaties, like actual pres. bush did? because a pres. gore would have invaded an entire country, to purportedly capture non-citizens of that country, who committed civilian criminal acts against the US, like actual pres. bush did?

      I can see it now: Pres. Gore goes before the country and says, “Despite our best efforts and international pressure, the Afghan government refuses to surrender Osama bin Laden to representatives of the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is with a heavy heart that I have to tell you, the American people that we are now out of options as to how we bring to justice the person responsible for the deaths of thousands of fellow Americans.”

      Is this the fantasy land in which you live?

      • The Pale Scot

        IIRC2:

        But the Taliban were

        “‘looking for a way out’ of the problem with bin Laden”. The U.S. was urged to “find a way to compromise with the Taliban”, and possible “ways that the U.S. and the Taliban might use to break the impasse” were suggested, including “the possibility of a trial in a third (Muslim) country”, “U.S. assurances that bin Laden would not face the death penalty”, and “a U.S. outline of what the Taliban would gain from extradition of bin Laden”.[2]

        It is already known that the U.S. had demanded in secret discussions with the Taliban that bin Laden be handed over for more than three years prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The talks continued “until just days before” the attacks, according to a Washington Post report the month following the attacks. But a compromise solution such as the above that would offer the Taliban a face-saving way out of the impasse was never seriously considered. Instead, “State Department officials refused to soften their demand that bin Laden face trial in the U.S. justice system.”

        • From your link:

          It is already known that the U.S. had demanded in secret discussions with the Taliban that bin Laden be handed over for more than three years prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The talks continued “until just days before” the attacks, according to a Washington Post report the month following the attacks. But a compromise solution such as the above that would offer the Taliban a face-saving way out of the impasse was never seriously considered. Instead, “State Department officials refused to soften their demand that bin Laden face trial in the U.S. justice system.”

          Which, again, makes me ask – what fantasy-land do you live in, in which an American President in the wake of an attack of this magnitude doesn’t respond the way Bush did in Afghanistan? People can complain until they’re blue in the face about the legality or lack thereof when it comes to the invasion of Afghanistan. What realistic alternatives in the real world would any of them propose that would allow that President to keep his or her office?

          Whether or not I or anyone else thinks the Afghanistan invasion was the right thing to do or conformed either to the Constitution or international law – no American President would have done anything differently, and I cannot imagine a scenario otherwise.

          • Brien Jackson

            People can complain until they’re blue in the face about the legality or lack thereof when it comes to the invasion of Afghanistan.

            Well they could, but I’m not sure what the basis of it would be outside of the “anything I don’t approve of violates international law” standard a lot of internet lefties seem fond of.

          • The Pale Scot

            Sorry, don’t have time to look for links so this is from memory;

            The lines of communication were there, it was possible to try negotiations while the invasion was spun up. Would the Taliban give up Bin Laden to avoid invasion? I Don’t know, I do know that the Bush Admin. rebuffed the Taliban’s offers to negotiate AFTER 9/11. This parallels the Bushies avoiding talks with Iran even after Iran had been secretly helping the CIA ID members of Taliban/Al Queada who were attempting to cross over the Afghan/Iran. The Iranians photographed them, fingerprinted them then sent them back. It dovetails with the utter lack of planning regarding maintaining law and order after Iraq had been captured.

            If you’re a neocon/cracker who sees every problem as an opportunity to use force in an attempt to overwhelm reality with shock and awe then it’s obvious that you don’t ever negotiate. By negotiating you might have had a chance to influence influence enemy actions to your benefit, and god knows deceit and manipulation is something intulectualls do, not manly gun-toting Americans. The Bushies ignored that because “they create their own reality”, a reality in which the JCS has to make a concerted effort to deny Rumsfield’s plan invade Iran with a single Armored Div. racing straight to Baghdad and not securing his flanks like he was Rommel.

            It’s lostsa/coulda/shoulda/woulda’s but the Bush/Rumsfield actively avoided any circumstance that might have impinged on their dick swinging.

            • It’s lostsa/coulda/shoulda/woulda’s but the Bush/Rumsfield actively avoided any circumstance that might have impinged on their dick swinging.

              Which is neither here nor there. I was responding to a comment that seemed to suggest there was a realistic alternative to an invasion, given the realities at the time. Mind you, the Bush Administration managed to botch the invasion, letting bin Laden escape during the Battle of Tora Bora, then invented the whole, “But The Taliban are EVVVIIILLLL!” reason for the invasion and undertook nation-building, which he had disparaged during the 2000 campaign.

              In the face of the kind of attack the United States experienced, any kind of dithering would have been considered near-treasonous. A Pres. Gore would have invaded. Full stop. That was the point I was trying to make, and its opposite I was mocking. And would continue to mock, I would add.

              • The Pale Scot

                The problem is inserting Gore in the middle of a decision line created by the Bushies, I think that line would have been different if it was created by Gore. If the Taliban had offered up BL to avoid invasion, would Gore have accepted? I think it’s possible, He had at least (I can’t find a definitive account of his Vietnam experience, too much chafe) been in a war zone, so he didn’t have the blissfully reverent illusions of a 1914 Brit. cavalry officer about war that the neocons have.

                The Taliban could have offered to have BL quietly whacked and sent us the head and info about Al Qaeda finances.

                I had an appointment on Hudson St. down the road from TWC that day and went to an unrelated wake on the Sunday after in midtown for I guy I euphemistically use to say was a member of the Irish mob. There were many NYC FFs and cops from the outlying boroughs. No fatalities in the family, but they responded and had incredible pictures of the area fighting street wide fires.

                Anyway these tough irish guys were focused on whacking AQ/BL as payback. Not bombing swaths of brown people. Agiprop after 9/11 had an affect on public opinion (the fundi-crackers hopped aboard, here was genuine Satan to con the rubes with), I don’t think Gore would have started out waving the bloody flag. You are inserting Gore into a decision path created before AND after 9/11 by Bush. Under those specs, you’re right, Gore would have invaded.

                My views are probably NYC centric and colored by the way the responders were treated in the aftermath, but watching Terrysteria happen in place like bumfuck WV seemed ridiculous. NYC was attacked, not Buford and Rosco’s barn.

                Bush/Rumsfield and Cheney couldn’t find their asses with a two hands, a map, radar and a GPS. I think we need to see how that past history was directed by neocon incompetence if you’re going to drop a guy into one spot on the timeline and insist he had no options.

  • LeeEsq

    Like David Hunt said above, Goldwater would probably be worse than LBJ was when it came to Vietnam policy. Goldwater at least verbalized a desire to use nukes to stop communism. Whether or not he could have actually done so would be another thing.

    Most politicians would have probably escalated Vietnam to at least the level that LBJ did because the logic of the Cold War dictated that communism had to be stopped.

    • Tom Servo

      Speaking of which, does anyone know what, if anything, the Joint Chiefs can do if the President issues a ridiculous order? Even if it isn’t even clearly illegal, just a farcically bad idea. If you’re a General and the President tells you to nuke Iran, do you nod your head slowly and then go run to the Secretary of Defense and say you need an emergency cabinet meeting to declare the president incompetent per Section 4 of the 25th Amendment?

      • Tom Servo

        Apparently I’ve got the chain of command wrong. So an order goes through the Sec of Defense? I wonder if a Secretary of Defense has ever been tempted, since the passage of the 25th Amendment, to gather the rest of the cabinet to temporarily remove the President of his authority.

        • LeeEsq

          Based on some of our misadventures, I’d say that the answer to your question is no. Its an interesting question. I think one reason why Congress was given authority to declare war even though the President is Commander and Chief was to prevent any sort of miltiary adventures that the Presisdent might want to undertake. It didn’t work out exactly as planed.

          • Tom Servo

            I like to think I would go to military prison before I would follow an order to nuke Iran or something, but easier said than done.

            • LeeEsq

              Its a problem inherent in every democratic system, what do you do when the legitimately elected leader wants to do something thats perfectly within their power but bat-sh*t insane? Refusing to follow orders or even staging a coup is problematic but following orders is also not such a good thing to do.

        • If memory serves, towards the end SecDef Schlesinger put the word out that all orders from Nixon were to be put on hold until he (Schlesinger) could sign off on them. Apparently, he feared that Nixon’s mental, and chemical, state wasn’t up to snuff.

          .

      • postmodulator

        I’ve vaguely heard that when Nixon went seriously around the bend right before his resignation, the military leadership was kind of bracing itself to do exactly that. Anyone remember what I’m talking about?

        • drkrick

          As I remember it, his Chief of Staff, Al Haig (of “I’m in control here” fame seven years later) instructed the Joint Chiefs during the last few weeks before resignation that orders from Nixon (or maybe extraordinary orders from Nixon) shouldn’t be executed without Haig’s approval. Completely illegal, of course, but the circumstances were pretty extreme at the time. Luckily, Nixon didn’t order anything that put it into play.

          • Brien Jackson

            That seems like the pretty likely scenario to me. In the event other officials have SEEEERIOUS reservations about the President’s decision making ability, they’re probably likely to just refuse to carry out orders, especially if there’s broad consensus amongst them that the order shouldn’t be carried out. I suppose that’s a tad problematic if you’re a hyper-formalist, but from an practical standpoint it seems like a pretty decent informal solution for what’s probably a very unusual circumstance.

          • I thought Schlesinger but perhaps you’re right.

            (Also: I should refresh before writing.)

            .

            • Hogan

              Wasn’t just Nixon.

              The unreported, but important, main reason behind Schlesinger’s dismissal, though, was his insubordination toward President Ford. During the Mayaguez incident, Ford ordered several retaliatory strikes against the Cambodians. Schlesinger told Ford the strikes were carried out, but Ford later learned that Schlesinger, who disagreed with the order, had none of them carried out. According to Bob Woodward’s 1999 book, Shadow, Ford let the incident go, but when Schlesinger committed further insubordination on other matters, Ford finally fired him.

              • Tom Servo

                Is it ok for someone up the chain of command to circumvent it going down? Like could the President, if he didn’t feel like going to the Sec of Defense directly, just call up a general and give an order?

  • LeeEsq

    I think its also fair to point out that the Vietnam War was at first popular or at least supported by the general public in addition to the elite. With Iraq, there was widespread anti-war protests almost as soon as it became apparent that Bush II wanted to invade Iraq. The anti-Vietnam War protests took a few years to really develop in earnest. At the beggining of the Vietnam War, they were practically non-existent because it was the Cold War and fighting Communists was popular.

    • JoyfulA

      My late husband went to an engineering school where ROTC was mandatory (common at the time), and in 1962 or 1963 he had an ROTC instructor who’d been in Vietnam. After he had an earful of what to expect, he decided he didn’t want to be a civil engineer who blew up bridges and apartment houses and killed people, and he transferred to a liberal arts college.

      A long way to say few people knew there was anything going on in Vietnam at the time.

      • Just Dropping By

        Where did LeeEsq say that “few people knew there was anything going on in Vietnam at the time” or anything like that? He said that it was “popular or at least generally supported by the general public,” that “protests took a few years to really develop in earnest,” and that at “the beginning of the Vietnam War, they were practically non-existent….” Those are all 100% true statements about the period as far as I’m aware.

  • Paul Klos

    A couple other points of comparison – LBJ fought his war with a draft and also a surtax. It was a bad war based on bad assumptions but at least he asked the whole nation to fight it or pay for it.

    • postmodulator

      What? The American people put magnets on their cars and quit listening to the Dixie Chicks. What kind of superhuman feats do you expect of them?

      It was a a fun culture-jamming thing to do in that era — and I tried to do it once but was foiled — to go up to Young Republicans on college campuses and hand them your local Army recruiter’s business card. There’s some examples on YouTube. Somehow, being Young Republicans, they still managed to act like indignant victims about it.

  • Samuel Knight

    Bush was more responsible for Iraq that LBJ for Vietnam for 2 big reasons:
    1) Vietnam had happened – it was history. Korea worked – the US stopped the invasion – that’s the history LBJ had. Bush ignored all the lessons of Vietnam and made the same mistakes again. He lied again, he didn’t plan, didn’t consult the experts, etc.
    2) Vietman was somewhat supported by the rest of the world at the start. Iraq had the biggest demonstrations ever against it.

    Also, I’d argue that 9-11 very likely would never have happened IF the President had done something, anything with the intelligence reports. Bush ignored a briefing of an Al Queda threat. Al Gore wouldn’t have done that.

    But the killer is that LBJ is THE President who finally took decisive action on Civil Rights. And he lead to the biggest improvement in seniors’ lives with Medicare than anyone ever has. And it’s just a big lie that the Great Soceity didn’t work – it halved poverty. If not for Vietnam LBJ might have been one of the greatest.

    For any historian to argue that LBJ is worse than Bush is a farce. (Or Niall Ferguson but that means that same thing I guess).

    • liberal

      Aren’t you omitting
      (3) we had already been involved in Vietnam, at least as far back as the early 1950s when, by 1954, we were paying for 75% of the French war effort
      ?

      • Cranky Observer

        I’d say the US got involved in Vietnam when we backed the Nationalists (Ho Chi Minh et al) against the Japanese occupiers,but we like to forget about that part.

        • Monte Davis

          The whole 1945-1955 transition — from Wilsonian-FDR complaisance at the end of UK-French-Dutch empires, to our own anti-communist “stand your ground” — was intricate and amazing.

          What turned sentiment against the Vietnam war so fast in 1964-1969 wasn’t just “light at the end of the tunnel” happytalk and Tet: it was that when the Eisenhower-JFK-LBJ story line of “support embattled little democracy, don’t repeat Munich appeasement” weakened, there was an alternate story line — VC and NVA as freedom-loving Minutemen, our forces as imperial redcoats — ready to take its place.

  • This is a very good post. I layed into Scott for the previous post, because I really do think his rhetoric let LBJ off the hook for something that he should never be let off the hook for.

    I’m not going to lay into this one, even though there’s surely much I disagree with him on. This is a good clarification / semi-retrenchment and it reflects good on his character that he reconsidered what he had previously written.

  • “Vietnam was indeed even worse in terms of its bad effect on the people of Vietnam, Cambodia, and the United States than the Iraq war was on the people of Iraq and the U.S., no question.”

    Too soon to tell.

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